Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Royal Scam

Nice Dress, Kate: Give a Kiss 'Ere, Duchess
I had to skip the nuptials of Prince William and the commoner, Kate Middleton this morning at 4:30 a.m. (Mountain time). It was my duty, I think, as an American not to be among the 2 billion who watched (or is that people who watched something? I am, unavoidably, seeing the highlights, so that might count me in.)

Though I certainly don't begrudge the lovely couple their chance to have a proper marriage, certainly there is something incongruous about a nation which is leading the world in government austerity having such a lavish ceremony. Yes, the royals are supposed to be footing the bills, though I am sure there is a sizeable cost overrun for security, military overflights (William's a Flight Lieutenant--that's "lef-ten-ant"). Maybe all that deficit spending and voyeuristic tourism will assist their nation's flagging recovery a bit--I'm willing to hope so.

The fact is that the royal family is an incredibly large, government-subsidized luxury burden on the nation, a long-running private enterprise of huge wealth (does Fortune bother to include them in their table?) The Queen and her grandson should make the country a wedding gift of a billion pounds or so to help pay for their share of the belt-tightening that everyone else has been told they must take.

And Now, for Something Completely More Interesting

I'm working on a significant project for the blog; its working title is "My Playlist of All Time". I'm planning it as a list of 200 songs, with no more than one from each artist (though I will allow myself to mention one or two others from artists who have multiple cuts of greatness). It'll be rock-centered, with some blues and soul, songs released during my conscious lifetime. The idea would be a playlist that is long enough, diverse enough, and with songs of good enough quality that I would never tire of it (though I may never actually put together the physical collection of the music, and will certainly never listen to it in 24-hour continuous fashion).

Sometimes the line is blurry as to the bounds enclosed by a single artist: for example, think of all the different groups Eric Clapton has played with--how many songs from Clapton will I include? (the answer is, I haven't decided yet). With regard to the Beatles, I will go by lifetime recordings by songwriter--Harrisongs, songs by John Lennon, as a solo artist or ones that he wrote for the band (as best as I can determine, and I took a stab at it last December on the anniversary of his murder), and McCartney's solo songs or ones written for the band.

It will still be a hugely difficult task for some artists--there's only one Bob Dylan, one Stevie Wonder (though I'm going in thinking I will allow myself to differentiate Rolling Stones with Brian Jones and without him). So it is with Steely Dan, defined as Becker + Fagen + whoever (their solo efforts could, in theory, get separate entries).

So, in honor of the royal couple, here is an effort to rank my favorite 25 Steely Dan songs, counting down. The music in all these is so good, it's hard to have much preference. That comes more from the songs effect on my emotions, and from a fairly close study to try and figure out the lyrics. As you'll see, I like least their snobby put-downs (despite great music, such as 'Barrytown' and 'Gaucho' are not included here), not so crazy about their pervasive perversity, I appreciate their "character studies", and love their offbeat philosophical statements.

25: The Royal Scam--A big-time con, not something about the royals. The tone is an admiring one.
24: Haitian Divorce--I like this song for its offbeat musical styling, not for its story of illegitimacy and accidental miscegenation.
23: Two Against Nature--Nice pace in this one, as the duo re-emerge from retirement to take on everything. I have to say I share their point of view on this one more than I usually do.
22: Cousin Dupree--I'm going to hope that this popular recent ditty, about some old geezer's fling with his underage cousin, has no basis in their reality.
21: Your Gold Teeth II--A rarity--the groove was so good, the band had to continue it in a cut from a successive album.
20: Brooklyn--There's a clear tone of nostalgia in this rambling early piece.
19: Sign In Stranger--It's about plastic surgery for mobbed-up criminals, but that doesn't really matter.
18: Third World Man--Satire about the suburbs and desegregation, with a false tension and lyrics perfectly fitting the slow rhythm.
17: Reelin' in the Years--The first SD song I knew, for a long time the only one. Catchy chorus, tight soloing; it's got to be about waste (of time and oneself), but it's hard to tell if the viewpoint is supportive or just nasty.
16: Charlie Freak--A brilliantly-layered musical construction with great tension. The subject? Some poor sap's drug overdose.
15: FM--To me, this is nothing more than a razor-sharp recorded paean to the glory of modern sound reproduction, which the Dan exploited to the max.
14: My Old School--One of the few songs that I think is definitely about the boys themselves, rather than the voice of some twisted folks they know or imagine. The key word is "Annandale", a reference to Annandale-on-Hudson, the location of Bard College, where they went ("studied" would be the wrong word) for a year or so.
13: Chain Lightning--I don't know what it's about, not sure I want to (smoking crack?) Great guitar work.
12: Doctor Wu--See comments on "Chain Lightning".
11: Do It Again--The subject is recidivism--on criminality, gambling, bad romance--and the outlook is clearly pessimistic, the tone reproving, the music uplifting.
10: Your Gold Teeth--A piece that is seriously underrated in the pantheon; one practically never hears it. It has a complex musical format and lyrics that actually approach profundity for once. It's about using the I Ching to answer one's short-term questions, and how that fantasy somehow fits life's real strangeness.
9: Show Biz Kids--This, and the next three titles, are about as political as they get. This one's message is unmistakable, about the phony, self-absorbed Hollywood culture.
8: With A Gun--This one's condemning violent criminality. Perennially relevant in the US.
7: Black Friday--a typical upbeat song on a very dark subject, about heading for the hills when it all comes tumbling down.
6: King of the World--following on the "Black Friday" apocalypse theme; it seems to be about a nuclear holocaust in our area, the Rio Grande. I remember the band playing it on an outdoor stage near Albuquerque in '07(?), a plague of moths--attracted by the light, no doubt--getting in their faces and bugging them.
5: West of Hollywood--My clear favorite from the albums of the Nouveau Dan. Great, long sax solo, piercing lyrics about slacker-ism.
4: Kid Charlemagne--Can a groove be both dark and happy? Invokes nostalgia for the early hippie days, I think--could the title character be Owsley, the king of early-day LSD production?
3: Bodhisattva--I have always loved the Buddhist concept of the enlightened ones staying with us mortal fools to help us fiind the way (meaning of the title). I don't focus on SD's (no doubt perverted) use of the idea; instead I love the non-stop, infectious energy of the song.
2: Pretzel Logic--The band making a statement, I think. A great slow-rocking platform for soloing, with historical and philosophic references, all twisted up. The point of it is exactly that it is not all so straightforward.
1: Aja-Perhaps a bit of a surprise. I remember listening to it repeatedly as I walked the streets of Hong Kong with my new Walkman in 1987. I'm still not sure what it's about (I have a feeling it's something about drug dealing--"when all my dime dancing is through"--but it's seductive and affecting).

1 comment:

Chin Shih Tang said...

A couple of minor second thoughts: I should switch "Your Gold Teeth" and "Your Gold Teeth II" in the rankings--the description I gave for #10 is more appropriate for II. Both have gambling references and superb solo-ing, but only II has the philosophy.

Second, I should've included a couple more cuts from "Katy Lied"--probably "Throw Back the Little Ones" (I'd say, not necessarily about fishing--for fish, that is) and "Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More" (just what the title says), maybe "Bad Sneakers". What to remove, though? Maybe "Cousin Dupree", but I'm hard-pressed to find others....